This is a rough draft of some fiction based on a weird love song.
It was Thursday, February 12, 1981. I remember it like it was yesterday. I met her at the bus stop down on East Dead End Alley. It’s the stop where the bus has to turn around in the old liquor store parking lot to start the route the other way. I was staying with a friend who had a third floor apartment overlooking that bus stop.
I remember it was a Thursday because I was going across town for my class on the History of Watching Paint Dry. I was putting myself through college one course at a time. I guess I was inspired by Mr. Kotter and I thought that by teaching history to all the ignorant sweat hogs, I could change the world. The truth was I had no direction and I had no idea why I was taking college classes.
There was a blue postal box next to the liquor store and the only other person waiting at the stop was hunkered down behind it. He was holding onto it like he was afraid he would be blown off the earth. There was a broken Night Train bottle under the mailbox and a faint smell of urine wafting over on the frigid February breeze.
She appeared from around the corner wearing a bright red wool coat and a blue knit hat that was starting to unravel a little near the top where the big puffy yarn ball was blowing back and forth in the wind. She walked up and took immediate inventory of her potential bus mates. Mailbox hugger was busy in conversation with himself, which left me as the safe option. She walked up to me and said hello. She bet me the price of bus fare that our mutual friend would be passed out by the time the bus finally showed up. The bus was famous for being late at this end of the route. I took that bet and I won. Shortly after her arrival he began singing “bicycle built for two” in the style of 100 bottles of beer on the wall. The bus hissed to a stop in front of him around the time he was mumbling “a bicycle built for seven hundred and thirty-six.”
When the driver called my stop, I pretended not to hear and rode along enthralled by the beautiful tinkling of her voice. (Another version of the story is that her unceasing chatter distracted me and I completely missed my stop.) Then there was that moment. She smiled at me just right and I was instantly convinced that I could spend the rest of my life listening to her prattle on about absolutely nothing. I conveniently got off with her on 30th street. I had a 3 mile walk back to the history building. I missed my class but didn’t care because she had agreed to meet me that night for drinks down at Joe’s.
We had chemistry. We both loved all the same songs on the jukebox. And we both hated the Kenny Rogers song that the rhinestone cowboy kept playing all night long. We both drank our coffee black with tons of sugar. We both had overbearing mothers who dictated most of our life choices with their soul crushing guilt trips. The bartender kicked us out so he could sweep up.
We were both too awake to sleep. We went down to the 24 hour diner and had some coffee. Paul Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” was playing. Even though we had just met that day, I felt like we had known each other for a long time. We met for breakfast at the diner every morning that week. Three weeks later, I moved my meager worldly possessions into her apartment.
We lived in her apartment on 4th Ave for the next five years. I finally finished college and got a job teaching high school. Eventually we got married and had kids. The excitement died out quick after that first date, as it always does. Things were never bad, just real consistent.
Last week, I sat contemplating my life. I was trying to figure out how I had gotten to this point. All the movies show love as being flashy and romantic. But the truth of the matter is that our relationship is based solely on calm, consistent everyday routines. It is just comfortable and we are both good with that.
It reminds me of a history lesson I teach every year. Back in 1929, the Italians were at war with the Irish in Chicago. One side dressed up like cops and gunned down seven men from the other team. The victims thought it was a standard raid and they just lined up for the disguised firing squad.
How is our relationship like that massacre? There was some initial excitement but for the most part I thought it was a stereotypical police encounter. I lined up and got mowed down without ever seeing it coming. Love has a way of sneaking up on us.
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